Do It Yourself: Original Artwork

As fashionable, fabulous college students, it can be hard to marry a small budget and a well-decorated home harmoniously. So what do you do if you want to skip the Target home section and make your place a little more personal? Luckily, it’s easy to create custom artwork for your walls for much cheaper than you would be able to buy original art. This technique is so simple that you can do it even if you aren’t an artist.  The idea is to use tape and stickers to create a design that you then simply paint over. When the paint is dry, the tape and stickers peel off and you’re left with a unique canvas painting.

For this project, I had a budget of $35. My original supply list included a canvas, paint, tape, stickers, and a paint brush. I found a great deal on a 16″x21″ canvas two-pack, which was originally $15 but on sale for $6 (yes, for two!). I spent $4 for each of the acrylic paints, $4 on the brushes, $3 on the garage sale stickers (to make circles), $4 on the tape (which can be cut to make different sized lines), and $3 for each package of letters. Since I was under budget at $28, I also snagged some white glitter to mix in with my yellow paint. At $3 for a big tube, it made my grand total $31.

project supplies

I went into this project with a vague plan to paint the canvas yellow first, then tape off my design and possibly a quote so that they would be yellow and the main color would be the dark teal.  My first step was to mix the glitter with the paint.

paint and glitter, pre-mixing

paint and glitter, mixed

To my dismay, the paint appeared to literally eat the glitter. After a good mix (and the addition of more paint and a lot more glitter), it looked…basically the same. Oh well. Glitter wasn’t in the plan to begin with, so I can’t be too upset that the experiment didn’t work.

first coat in progress

I painted the canvas with a large brush in long strokes, not trying too hard to make it even since I knew most of it was going to be painted over in the end. I also painted the outer edge of the canvas yellow just to give it a nice pop when it’s hanging on the wall.

first coat, completed

After allowing the paint to dry all day, I came home from class to a great surprise – the glitter did mix in fairly well, causing some subtle sparkle. I almost didn’t want to paint over it! But I didn’t want to reevaluate my original plan too much, so I taped off the edges of my canvas and began considering my design.

taped edges ready for second coat

I decided to go with a simple, minimal design using just my letters to make the quote “do not distress yourself with dark imaginings,” from the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann. Now I can take those garage sale stickers back, which makes my total spent a mere $28. I taped a straight line with my painter’s tape and used that as the base for my letters. For the top line I hovered them just barely above the line, but I ended up sloping a little bit up anyway, so for the second line I put them directly on the tape and the result was much straighter. I did try to re-adjust the top line, but it was leaving glue residue on the canvas that my top coat would not apply well to, so I was forced to leave it slightly sloped.

stickers placed

I started my top coat with the stickers. I just used a smaller brush and carefully dabbed the paint around the letters. I didn’t realize it when I bought them, but they’re actually a little puffy, which made it a little more difficult. In retrospect, I believe this would’ve been easier if my stickers were flat.

beginning of blue paint

After I finished the letters, I used the same technique to cover the canvas with the blue. As you can see in the photo, I didn’t get very good, even coverage.

blue paint before removing letters

I let it dry overnight, and in the morning went over it with another coat. One useful trick is to hold the canvas up to a light so that the uneven spots show up. After I got a nice even coat and set it aside to dry all day, it was time to peel the letters off. As you can see, the paint did bleed a little bit under them. I think this is because they weren’t super sticky, although that did make them easier to peel off. You’ll also notice that the paint did collect on the edges of the letters, which makes it a little bit less flat than if the letters themselves had been flat.

the first letter peeled up

After peeling my letters off, I took my yellow paint, mixed it with glitter, and used a dry brush with very little paint to drag it down the canvas from the top. The paints mixed and created a nice ombre effect.

the final product

I think probably I will be going over the top part again, to make it more yellow and less green. That however is just personal preference!

A few suggestions I would make if you’re planning to do this as well: Put your letters on the top edge tape instead of trying to keep it even by eyeballing it. Use flat letters. Make sure you leave lots of drying time between steps. Finally, be creative and have fun with it! Art is subjective, so don’t feel like you have to follow any “rules” or do things how you’re “supposed to.”


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